School Security in the 50s, Part 2
In 1957, when I started the 7th grade, I had to leave the neighborhood. Huff Lane Elementary—three blocks from my house—only went to 6th grade. William Fleming High School—this was back in the day when Fleming was on Williamson Road—was about a mile from my house, but it went from 8th to 12th grade.
Anyhow, because all us Williamson Road area baby boomers were crowding the schools, most of us (except for two 7th grade classes at Preston Park Elementary) were sent downtown where an actual junior high existed. We had to ride an overcrowded city bus (with folks going to work and kids going to Roanoke Catholic High) to downtown Roanoke and then walk six or seven blocks to get to Lee Junior on Franklin Road. There was no school bus. The powers that be weren't picky how we got there, as long as we did get there on time. Our safety wasn't a public concern.
If Huff Lane was open and non-secure
, Lee Jr. was a fortress. Here's a picture I found on the Internet of Lee Jr. in its early days.
Note only one front door. The school was built of brick and stone, so it was pretty solid. All those big windows opened (no air conditioning), so if there was a fire (there never was) the firemen could have reached us with ladders. If a terrorist had wanted in, He'd have had to climb a pretty good ways and no doubt furnish his own ladder. Plus the teacher could have whacked him a good one with the long pole with the hook on the end that was used to open the windows.
Here's a side view from what looks like an earlier time than the first photo. Note that there is no side door. Classes were held on the three top floors. The cafeteria and gym and shop were on the basement level. The office was to the right of the front door.
When we had fire drills, we lined up on the sidewalk or in the small paved area surrounding the school. If there had been an actual fire, we'd have been blocking the firefighters' access. If there'd have been an explosion, the falling bricks and stones and glass would have crushed us. If a terrorist had been patrolling the area, we'd have made an easy target. Our security wasn't a priority— the important thing is that we stayed in line and exited the building quickly.
Because the school was named for General Robert E. Lee, the yearbook was, of course, The General.
Here's my yearbook picture—first one in the third row.
Junior high opened my eyes to a different way of life. I took PE for the first time and learned to play volleyball and basketball, both of which I disliked. We had to do calisthenics, which mainly consisted of "jumping jacks" on the hard wooden floor. The $2.99 Keds we wore weren't cushioned like today's fancy sneakers. I hated calisthenics and now blame them for the plantar fasciitis and heel spurs I developed later in life.
All 7th graders rotated through electives: music, art, home ec (for girls), and speech. In music, I learned about opera (we studied Carmen
), and symphonies—Peer Gynt
(I liked "Morning,"
but "In the Hall of the Mountain King
" was pretty good, too) and Peter and the Wolf
. I'm pretty sure we listened to The Nutcracker
, too. We sometime played a musical Bingo game that had notes and musical symbols instead of numbers.
In art, we drew a lot of dead trees because they were easy and did some kind of clay project. Our main media for our dead tree landscapes were crayon and water color.
In home ec, I learned to sew some basic stitches and to use a sewing machine. I can't remember if I made the set of really ugly placemats or the dreadful skirt in 7th grade. (One of them was in 7th, though, and the other was in 8th.) I also learned housewifely-type skills like dishwashing, which I'd never done before because Mama could do it better and I'd "make a mess." Home Ec is where I learned that you wash the glassware first and the pots and pans last. I'm pretty sure we made cookies, but I can't remember what kind. I do remember the home ec teacher demonstrating how to make a Waldorf salad and then giving us samples to taste. I'd never heard of a Waldorf salad, never even eaten any kind of salad, and was surprised that apples and walnuts could be salad ingredients.
In speech class, we mainly learned parliamentary procedure. I have no memory of ever giving a speech, but we must have. I do remember we had to take "minutes" every day about what happened in class and keep them in an envelope. I guess I was too busy taking minutes to remember what was going on. The room was dreary and the seats were bolted to the floor.
The big thing in 7th grade was that we studied Virginia history, and we took a three-day field trip to Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown. A few teachers rode each bus and patrolled the hallways of the Williamsburg Lodge at night so we didn't escape or something. In the mornings they yelled "Rise and Shine!" I love Virginia history, and it's possible that my love of it originated with that field trip.
Lee Jr. also introduced me to people that we didn't find in the middle class and lower middle class Williamson Road area. There were rich South Roanoke kids with nice clothes and nice manners, West End kids who weren't rich, some middle class kids who didn't live in Williamson Road, and some who could only be classified as hoods. A lot of boys smoked. It was an interesting blend.
The first page of the yearbook is a picture of the front with actual students exiting the building.
Here's a closer look. At the bottom left, you'll see a couple of hoods wearing jeans, black leather jackets, and the requisite ducktail hairdos that all good hoods sported. At the lower right, a non-hood lights the cigarette of another.
If a terrorist had gotten into the building, the hoods could probably have taken him out, or maybe other students could have set fire to him with their lighters. I never saw any actual switchblade displayed (although the art teacher was rumored to carry one), but I wouldn't have been surprised if a lot of the hoods were packing them. A lot of kids—and many teachers—packed cigarette lighters, though.
Lee Jr. was demolished around 1970 to make room for the Poff Federal Building. To replace Lee Jr., new junior high was built near Fishburn Park. In fact, when I returned to Roanoke in 1971, that junior high was where worked.
But my experiences there will have to wait for a future post.
Edited to add photos of the faculty: